Is sport and physical activity a waste of time?

a windsurfing perspective.

This is for those who don’t ‘get’ sport and physical activity and why we do it. Why we ruin our knees, freeze our bits off and bust collar bones. It’s for those who say, it’s just a game. And those who write things like:

“I have never understood the puerile fascination of watching 22 adult men kicking a bag of wind up and down a field.”

Johnny Wilkinson practising on a rugby pitch surrounded by balls.

Johnny Wilkinson: I’ve got an intrinsic dedication to learn and continually improve, so I see the training ground as an opportunity… I want to use every moment when I’m out there whether training as a team or individually. Every run, kick, pass, or communication should hold meaning.

Or, as To Muse and Abuse states:

“Analysts have since confirmed that the air-bag-kickery was the most exciting thing to happen in human history since last weekend, when a bunch of yellow-shirted millionaires kicked their sack of air into a net belonging to red-and-blue-shirted millionaires.”

What follows is not about about windsurfing per se, it’s about lifestyle and passion; an attempt to explain our ridiculous behaviour to all the sports hall haters of the world; for all those who seek to apply logic to our follies and think there are better things to do.

” The same energy devoted to sports can be devoted to more fruitful endeavours – like, say, cleaning the streets, repainting a school, dealing with soil erosion etc. Those can all be motivating and can build social networks.”

F12 Severe widespread damage to vegetation and structures. Debris and unsecured objects are hurled about.

Image showing Satellite view of a deep low pressure

Satellite view of a deep low pressure

The cold north wind and rain had been funnelling down the Hope Valley for days rattling the tiles with gusts of 80 mph or more. On the Beaufort Scale winds of this magnitude are classified as Hurricane Force. At this time, apart from worrying if racks of sails and boards were getting damaged in my leaky shed, my thoughts couldn’t have been further away from windsurfing and the two hour journey to the cold North Sea this would have entailed. And then Alan Coutts landed on the breakfast bar.

Image of a windsurfer jumping swell in strong winds.

“Windsurfer Alan Coutts braves strong winds at Troon Beach in Troon, Scotland”

At a time when storms and floods continue to cause disruption throughout the UK, Alan was out . When most were battening down the hatches, windsurfers throughout the Uk would be excited beyond rest at the thought of wind and waves. No sleep would be had, and waking hours would be spent wondering if the dusted off 3.5m would be small enough; and what excuse to make to get off work.

Turning the clock back to 1980, I was walking on the same stretch of coastline on the Largs sea front. The day was bitter cold and the wind blowing from the North. Out of the grey distance a small sail ghosted at the edge of sight. It grew larger as it approached, a flash of orange and yellow, then flick, and somehow it was going back towards Millport (Great Cumbrae), across the wild sea. At the time there was no way I could work out how this little figure could glide and rise from the waves, turn 360 and disappear into the horizon. The only thing I did know was, I had to do it.

Windsurfing isn’t the cheapest sport around, so I had to wait until my studies were finished before I could satisfy my longing. My first pay packet went on a RYA Level 1 course at Calshot Activities Centre.

The first thing I learned was, when you see white water breaking, even if at sea, don’t sail at it. Unless you want to end up like me, that is, and be catapulted onto a sand bar in the middle of the Solent.

To this day I can still remember every detail of that weekend, right down to the smell of the wet suits and the crap coffee from the machine. I loved ever minute of the experience – that was me, well and truly hooked. For the next 20 years my life was devoted to windsurfing, nothing else mattered.

It is difficult to put into words all the sensations that windsurfing brings. Put simply, it is like a shot in the arm. The first time I lifted the board out of the water and began to plane I was a windsurfing junkie. Visualise being on the stone that you skim across the water, but the stone doesn’t stop skimming (planing). Girl planing on a windsurf board on a sunny day with hand skimming the waterThen imagine being able to turn the stone; jump it; lean out from the edge; or ride it down waves; ride out into sunsets. Imagine the sensation of feeling the water running through your toes and spray on your face. Totally at one with nature and the vast expanse of the sea.

It is 30 years since that weekend, and my obsession has taken me all over the world. In New Zealand I ran into a shark on a deserted beach, and had Gannets plunging into the water right next to me. Rode the waves in El Cotillo and turned back out to sea with flying fish leaping out at my feet and gulls flying along side – a touch away. And I have lounged under palm tress waiting for wind in Tobago. Nothing else mattered; I needed nothing else.

These days, a combination of poor circulation, 4 hours drive and the cold north sea, has made windsurfing a rare pleasure. But, the spring winds are here. Alan Coutts is out, and Robbie Naish – long admired by me – has made a return to competition. And I am back looking at the forecast. And I still miss Michael Fish.

When the wind didn’t blow I dreamed the dull moments away by endlessly watching this video. This is the best windsurfing movie of all time. Robby Naish is a legend and I wish he would re-release this movie.

So for the 71% who said yes in a debate on, Are Sports a Waste of Time? You are missing the point; stop looking for logic. Sport and physical activity is nearest a person can get to a natural high. No drugs, or fags or booze, a natural feel good – and it does feel very good. Take a peek it may change your life.

1.  Millport
2.  Calshot
3.  El Cotillo
4.  Robbie Naish
5.  Michael Fish